Milesian Genealogies

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter V

As the Milesians were the last of the ancient colonists, and had subdued the races previously existing in Ireland, only their genealogies, with a few exceptions, have been preserved. The genealogical tree begins, therefore, with the brothers Eber and Eremon, the two surviving leaders of the expedition, whose ancestors are traced back to Magog, the son of Japhet. The great southern chieftains, such as the MacCarthys and O'Briens, claim descent from Eber; the northern families of O'Connor, O'Donnell, and O'Neill, claim Eremon as their head. There are also other families claiming descent from Emer, the son of Ir, brother to Eber and Eremon; as also from their cousin Lugaidh, the son of Ith. From these four sources the principal Celtic families of Ireland have sprung; and though they do not quite trace up the line to

"The grand old gardener and his wife,"

they have a pedigree which cannot be gainsaid, and which might be claimed with pride by many a monarch. MacFirbis' Book of Genealogies,[5] compiled in the year 1650, from lost records, is the most perfect work of this kind extant. But there are tracts in the Book of Leinster (compiled A.D. 1130), and in the Book of Ballymote (compiled A.D. 1391), which are of the highest authority. O'Curry is of opinion, that those in the Book of Leinster were copied from the Saltair of Cashel and other contemporaneous works.

The historical use of these genealogies is very great, not only because they give an authentic pedigree and approximate data for chronological calculation, but from the immense amount of correlative information which they contain. Every free-born man of the tribe was entitled by blood, should it come to his turn, to succeed to the chieftaincy: hence the exactitude with which each pedigree was kept; hence their importance in the estimation of each individual ;hence the incidental matter they contain, by the mention of such historical events [6] as may have acted on different tribes and families, by which they lost their inheritance or independence, and consequently their claim, however remote, to the chieftaincy.

The ancient history of a people should always be studied with care and candour by those who, as a matter of interest or duty, wish to understand their social state, and the government best suited to that state. Many of the poorest families in Ireland are descendants of its ancient chiefs. The old habit—the habit which deepened and intensified itself during centuries—cannot be eradicated, though it may be ridiculed, and the peasant will still boast of his "blood:" it is all that he has left to him of the proud inheritance of his ancestors.


[5] Genealogies.—There is a "distinction and a difference" between a genealogy and a pedigree. A genealogy embraces the descent of a family, and its relation to all the other families that descended from the same remote parent stock, and took a distinct tribe-name, as the Dalcassians. A pedigree traces up the line of descent to the individual from whom the name was derived.

[6] Events.—Arnold mentions "the family traditions and funeral orations out of which the oldest annalists [of Roman history] compiled their narratives."—vol. i. p. 371. Sir G. C. Lewis, however, thinks thatthe composition of national annals would precede the composition of any private history; but he adds that he judges from the "example of modern times." With all respect to such an authority, it seems rather an unphilosophical conclusion. Family pedigrees would depend on family pride, in which the Romans were no means deficient; and on political considerations, which were all-important to the Irish Celt.